David Ciccarelli, CEO & Founder of Voices.com | How to Build a Two-Sided Marketplace From Scratch

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About The Guest

David Ciccarelli is an entrepreneur, the founder and CEO of Voices. As Chief Executive Officer, with the help of his team, David has grown Voices from the ground up to become the leader in the voice-over industry. David is responsible for setting the vision, executing the growth strategy, creating a vibrant culture, and managing the company on a day-to-day basis. David is wholeheartedly dedicated to growing the company to become a world-class organization and leading the industry in the digital age.

David has participated in the Canadian Technology Accelerator in Silicon Valley and then the Canadian Technology Accelerator in New York City. He successfully raised $2M in funding from the Business Development Bank of Canada, followed by a USD $18M Series A funding from Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital located in San Francisco. He often writes about these experiences in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Forbes.

Talking Points

  • 00:00 – David’s story.
  • 10:12 – The importance of shipping.
  • 18:15 – How to iterate & evolve through various business models.
  • 24:32 – How to secure your first customers.
  • 29:20 – Where should you spend your time as CEO?
  • 36:15 – How to build a marketplace.
  • 44:15 – How to overcome ‘shiny object syndrome’ and decide what to focus on.
  • 52:33 – Lessons for a young entrepreneur.

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What is the Success Story Podcast?

On this podcast, you’ll find interviews, Q&A, keynote presentations & conversations on sales, marketing, business, startups and entrepreneurship.

The podcast is hosted by entrepreneur, business executive, author, educator & speaker, Scott D. Clary.

Scott will discuss some of the lessons he’s learned over his own career, as well as have candid interviews with execs, celebrities, notable figures and politicians. All who have achieved success through both wins and losses, to learn more about their life, their ideas and insights.

He sits down with leaders and mentors and unpacks their story to help pass those lessons onto others through both experiences and tactical strategy for business professionals, entrepreneurs and everyone in between.

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Machine Generated Transcript


voices, business, people, platform, talent, founder, called, entrepreneur, strategy, big, hubspot, building, stephanie, customers, domain, marketplace, category, creative, scale, spoke


Scott, Scott D Clary, David Ciccarelli


Scott D Clary  00:00

Welcome to success story, the most useful podcast in the world. I’m your host, Scott D. Clary. The success story podcast is part of the HubSpot Podcast Network. The HubSpot Podcast Network has other great podcasts you should go check out like being boss, hosted by Emily Thompson. Now with the holidays just around the corner, you’re probably thinking, what’s next for you in the new year? What other shows are you going to listen to to level yourself up? Well, on the success story podcast, I interview a lot of entrepreneurs and I usually dive deep into the creative aspects of building a business. So if you are a creative, a creative business owner, or you’re thinking about eventually becoming one, which at some point everybody kind of has to be because you have to be a little bit creative in how you build a business, how you market a business. Now you sell your product all of that does require some creativity, but also for people that are hyper focused on the creative niche you may be interested in being boss hosted by Emily Thompson. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it means, but what it takes to be a boss. As a creative business owner. If you are into some of the following topics. You’re gonna love this show, project management and building systems for creatives, freelancers or side hustlers, opening a retail store rituals that inspire and evoke creativity and taking time off as a business owner to focus on yourself your creativity and upskilling you need to listen to being boss. They cover all these topics and more. You can listen to being boss on any of your favorite podcasting platforms or at hubspot.com/podcast network is David Ciccarelli, founder and CEO of voices.com, the largest marketplace for voice talent in the world. voices.com has over 1 million members, they’ve received $20 million in funding today. numbers wise, they have users from 160 countries and 5000 jobs are posted every single month. Their clients include marquee names like Microsoft, Shopify, Hulu, discovery, and many others. David is responsible for setting the vision executing the growth strategy, creating an ensuring that there is a vibrant culture managing the company on a day to day basis. He is frequently published in outlets such as the Globe and Mail, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. Some of the things we spoke about, we spoke about David’s journey, how and why he started voices calm some of the things he fumbled with when he was first starting voices calm, lessons learned while he competed with hundreds of startups trying to make a name for themselves in this category. And also, that was at the beginning how he still competes how he still maintains market share how he still maintains the fact that he’s the incumbent in this particular category, and how he stops himself from being disrupted. We speak about growth, marketing and scaling on a small budget right now they have $20 million in funding. They didn’t have that at the beginning how he had to be creative about evangelizing, scaling, growing, marketing the company from the ground up just with himself and his partner, and also how anybody can compete with giants by simplifying their business and how when his business got bloated, when it was getting big, he realized that trimming some of the fat was the best way to continue to scale to grow. And he speaks about some strategies for simplifying to expedite to increase the growth of your business. So some great entrepreneurial lessons. David is an exceptional founder and entrepreneur. So I really hope you enjoy this is David Sr, rally co founder and CEO of voices.com.


David Ciccarelli  03:35

Alright, well, Scott, thanks. Thanks for having me. And great to be here. I mean, yeah, origin story. I mean, I think every entrepreneur probably has, you know, a kernel of where that idea came from. Maybe it was your childhood, or some event that happened in your youth. And for me, it was growing up all around music and sound, I think at the time, you didn’t appreciate, you know, why your parents put you in, you know, piano lessons, or, you know, drumming or learning to play guitar. And for me, it was kind of all of the above. And I also really loved some of the sound and kind of equipment, you know, sound equipment that we had around the house. I mean, there’s this old shortwave radio where I could tune in to radio stations around the world, even hearing people speak other languages. I thought that was really cool. We had this old record player I could listen to not only like music, but also recordings of the human voice, people telling stories, I was just really kept captivated by that. So when it came time to find kind of a post secondary kind of after high school, you know, what are you going to do with the rest of your life. I also ultimately decided on this audio engineering program that kind of blended the art and the tech and the music. And it was there where I learned how to record and edit and produce music in a recording studio. And I just remember on as its story actually tell for new employees joining voices, that I remember being there on day one, just like a new employee and kind of like day one, week one and you’re in orientation. And the teacher from the school got up in front of the class, there was this big mixing console at the front, you know, that looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, very intimidating for all of us newbies. And there’s lecture theater and holding up two things in the hand. One was a tennis ball. And one was a microphone and just saying, if you don’t know the difference between these two, don’t sweat it, we’re going to teach you everything. And that’s actually a same message that I shared a new employees, joining voices around kind of learning about the industry and how the business works. But for me, after I graduated from that program, actually opened up a small recording studio of my own. In London, Canada, it’s about an hour outside of Toronto, hour and a half outside of Toronto. And I actually got my name on the local newspaper on my birthday of all days. And that’s when lo and behold, it was actually Stephanie who’s now my dear wife, of course, in co founder, invoices calm and at the time, she was a singer. She’s singing weddings, and funerals and other special events. And she was also in the music program at the Western University. So her mom actually read this newspaper article and said, Why don’t you go down to this studio, and actually get your singing repertoire recorded, and then you can have some marketing collateral that you can actually hand out to people, you know, maybe on CD, so I’m kind of you’re going back more than 10 years here, when you actually stick hand out CDs. So Stephanie came down to the studio chaperoned, of course, by her mother, and we ended up doing those recordings. But because of that same newspaper article, there were other small businesses in the city that wanted to hire a female voice for some radio commercials for some phone system recordings. And I only knew one girl in the city. So I gave Stephanie a ring and I said, Look at I’ll, I’ve got a gig. couple gigs, I’ll be the engineer, and you’ll be the female voice talent. And that was in effect, not only my proposal of how to work together, but I think it serves double duty as my marriage proposal because he got a whole bunch of work. Eventually, I think I married my first customer. It’s really what happened in that one. But we ended up you know, of course, getting working together really, really well. And launching what became, you know, kind of pivoting, which is sometimes perhaps an overused term, but I think we just kind of move forward in the same direction was me being the engineer, Stephanie being the talent to saying, you know, let’s get a website together. So we actually went to the local public library, took a web design for Dummies, and


Scott D Clary  07:35

this is just 10 years ago, this is this feels like,


David Ciccarelli  07:39

well, maybe maybe 15 or so. Yeah. And I mean, listen, there was nothing that like, you know, you think of nowadays, you have access to WordPress, you have access to like Wix or other content management systems. Shopify, if you’re doing e commerce, I mean, there really wasn’t anything that was nearly that mature, you have to hand code your, your own websites, basically in HTML. And that’s, that’s what we did. And then soon thereafter, realize, after putting the site up, there were freelance talent. You know, people who spoke other languages had other accents located in different parts of North America, that would contact us and say, how do we get on this website? You know, is he got a few names there? How do I, how do I get listed? And we always just said, Yeah, sure, sign up, sign up for free, give us some contact information, we’ll build a page for you. And then concurrently, there’ll be clients, who would be you know, advertising agencies, small video production companies, that would be saying, I see this person on your website, it’s a link to click and play and listen, but how do I actually hire them? How do we get in touch with them? And that was, I refer to that as the aha moment, right? I mean, every entrepreneur has them. Sometimes it’s like the epiphany to realize like the world just seems to kind of click and for for us, that was, wow, why are we still in the recording business? Why don’t we take a step back and facilitate these connections. And that’s really at the heart of what a two sided marketplace or an online marketplace is, which is a super hot business model nowadays, of bringing together buyers and sellers, creators, and, you know, consumers, if you will. And so, you know, we can, we can unpack that as well. But that is, in effect, the business model of bringing these two parties together for a service. And for us, it’s a voiceover service, and more recently looking at other creative services like music production and translation, and audio editing these other kind of complementary, but that’s been the business, you know, idea from its inception. And we just stuck with it all this time, to where we are today.


Scott D Clary  09:45

So I want to address things that I want to first of all, thank you for the story. I appreciate and I love seeing the evolution of business ideas. Now let’s, let’s say that I want to talk about creating, you know, this marketplace. This doubles this two sided marketplace. But okay, let’s even talk about the domain because I think that’s the the very interesting. That’s a very premium domain, right? There’s no more. I don’t think you can get a single word domain in the English language anymore. So


David Ciccarelli  10:11

not like a dictionary word that’s for sure. No, no, you actually started as, as interactive voices.com, which is kind of a mouthful. You know, it served us well, for the first kind of like four or five years, I think we got up to about 10,000 registered users had clients from NBC and Microsoft. So I mean, it, it definitely got the thing going. So you know, maybe first point is like business leaders and entrepreneurs. Don’t feel that, you know, don’t let that being a blocking factor. And like, I can’t launch until I have the perfect name. I think it’s better to launch fast get feedback from the market and validate and then hey, it’s worth investing in that premium premium domain. So for us it was interactive voices your you know, your profile, Scott if you had one would have been Scott dot interactive voices calm. So again, gotcha. Okay. Not great. But and it’s funny because people would misspell it, they’d think it was voice interactive, like, get the words flipped around


Scott D Clary  11:10

the dumbest mistakes, but it’s still


David Ciccarelli  11:13

singularity, plural. Yeah. And, and it was funny, like one lady, even kind of, you know, she complained to us that she had to type it out every time and it was like her fingers are getting turned on, like, you can bookmark the page, you know, there are easier ways to get to the site. But nonetheless, you know, we realize maybe this is more of a hindrance because it kind of pigeonhole us into like, new media, interactive media like, but voiceovers like a multi billion dollar global market, really, nowadays, anytime you hear the human voice, somebody either went into a studio to create to record, or they’ve actually went into a studio to train one of these synthetic voice systems that sometimes you hear on like tick tock as an example, they have where somebody’s voice is actually generating that computerized voice. So either way, people are behind everything, all the voices you hear. And so it was a much bigger market, I was on a bit of a quest to change the domain name and our address. And I actually went I looked@vox.com and Boxeo, Voxy, you know, dropping vowels and just trying to find something shorter and tighter. And I put in a bid of actually $100,000 for vox.com, which we ended up losing the auction. And that, of course, went to Vox media. But you know, that I realized, well, maybe rather than like a name, a whole sale, like rebranding would perhaps it was like more of a name, a shortening a simplification, if you will. And what if we just cut out the interactive part, and we’re just like voices. And I did what probably most of you have done is you go to Google, you type it in and like see if there’s even a website registered. And it was, it was a site, it was a medical journal called silencing the critical voices in your head. And it was registered in 1998. Hadn’t been updated since 2000. So again, a good thing seven years since it’s even been touched. And I actually reached out to a lawyer who had just met and I said, Do you think you can send this do the Whois lookup, write the reverse lookup? Yeah. And send this fellow an email, and ask him if he would sell the name? And if so what price and he came back with the price of 50,000, which was half of what the auction was with Vox. So I realized, well, we’re already ahead. But I didn’t have 50,000 on hand. So I went to all of the banks and made the pitch of, hey, we’re building rebranding and building this new website and like, so you buying servers, you’re gonna hire a bunch of people like, no, just just a domain name. And they’re like, can’t you go and just register those, like off the shelf, you know, from GoDaddy or network solutions? Or wherever I’m like, No, they’re not really available like that. And so I appreciated the value in that. So the lawyer actually taught me an important lesson, which was, everyone was saying no. And he’s like, Well, don’t take no for an answer. Look at the seller wanted, it was willing to sell, and they name the price. So let’s go back with a counteroffer. How can we meet that? And so we came back with $30,000, which was we divided into payments, you know, $5,000 a quarter over the next six quarters. And with that, he went for the deal. So for $5,000 that I, you know, probably foolishly did a cash advance on our credit card to get the money to go?


Scott D Clary  14:36

And whatever takes whatever it takes, right?


David Ciccarelli  14:40

Yeah, in fact, the name which is, I mean, let’s listen looking back those got I’d say that was like one of the defining moments that, you know, really changed the trajectory. We went from like this obscure, kind of quirky mouthful of a name to voices and it just sounds like we’ve been around for forever. The blessing in disguise, oh, that all of that as well was that Google at the time was really going to say overweighting the age of the domain because it was like one of these factors you can’t really manipulate in, in the search engine results kind of factors. And we ended up just doubling our traffic virtually overnight. Like we just kind of pointed, you know, redirect, seen website, same pages, all the content exactly the same, just on a new domain. And the traffic doubled over that weekend where we made that implementation. And just hadn’t looked back ever since. And other like byproducts, like organic traffic up, you know, journalists and reporters from CNN, Los Angeles Times, you know, they’re doing they’ve written stories about the industry or celebrities and doing voice acting, or, you know, you know, Alexa, or the first Amazon Kindle had this like voice that we kind of read out to you. It’s kind of the precursor, actually to Alexa. And whenever there was like some tech story with voice, they do research and then reach out for comment. So we got a lot of these other knock on effects that I totally were unquantifiable at the time. But I think that just shows you that sometimes you just need to take that step out in faith. Because if you really see the potential in something, you just need to take that step.


Scott D Clary  16:19

I’m curious where your head was that when you made that, so yeah, it wasn’t 100,000 it wasn’t 50,000 it was 30,000 5000 a quarter. Were you revenue generating at this point? I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode. masterworks. Most millionaires do this. Listen, after interviewing over 200 entrepreneurs and investors, highly successful people I’ve discovered they all do one thing in common to become a millionaire, you have to invest like one. But that’s easier said than done. Because the truth is investments and luxury real estate deals lucrative pre IPO deals and hedge fund products are closed off to 97% of Americans, the odds are stacked against you. But there’s a new app that lets everybody invest like the ultra wealthy, it unlocks a massive $1.7 trillion opportunity that to date has been closed off to investors. It’s one the millionaire’s used to not only grow their wealth, but protect it. And for good reason. This asset beat the s&p 500 by 174% from 1995 to 2020. What I’m about to say might surprise you, but what I’m talking about is contemporary art masterworks which is New York City’s newest $1 billion unicorn gives you the opportunity to invest in the same type of art as the world’s richest individuals, including works by legends like Banksy FASTQC yet and Warhol demand for masterworks offering is higher than ever. Luckily, I’ve partnered with masterworks to get VIP access to skip to the front to secure your spot head to masterworks.io/success story, that is masterworks.io/success story, you can skip to the head of the line and start investing in contemporary art that the ultra wealthy invest in to see important disclosures go to masterworks.io/disclaimer Where was it business is really


David Ciccarelli  18:15

worth business. So the business model at the time, which I mean, it’s slightly evolved since then, but it was a it was a membership based site. So the voice talent could sign up for free, or they could upgrade to a premium subscription, which we started at $99 a year and you know, every couple years, kind of four or five years, we you know, increased by another $100 or so. It’s now $500 A year subscription but at that time, you know there is great recurring revenue that comes from a membership based site and what are the talents subscribing to it’s really to gain access to those job opportunities that are posted by clients. So hey, for a really frankly a nominal membership free in advance. I now am participating in a marketplace where kind of as a platform voices is bringing all of these buyers you know as they say from ad agencies from corporate marketing departments that someone in you know, maybe a major center might have access to or have like that traditional talent agent but if you’re really talented but you don’t live in New York or LA How are you going to kind of break in or break through into the industry and so I think we unlocked a lot of potential and and welcome new talent on the platform because that you know value prop if you will resonate with them great. Create an online profile, get access to clients, and hopefully be a venue where I can build my career.


Scott D Clary  19:52

And and I also want to before we keep going down this this this, the story I want to understand how did you even scale the first How did you get the first customers on the platform? How did you get your first 1000 customers on the platform? And then I want to understand after you switch that domain, you can talk numbers or not, it’s up to you. But what your MRR was pre domain and then post domain and how that kind of helped you ramp up?


David Ciccarelli  20:15

Yeah, sure. So the pre MRR would probably be something like, I think the first goal was always to get to 8000 a month, because that would be the 10 or 100,000 a year. And then, so that was certainly kind of a pre I think we had like one other employee, we did not pay ourselves stuffing I very much at all. And I think we got up to about $500,000 in annual annual recurring revenue. And that was, you know, before kind of the domain and, you know, it’s really been almost a, you know, a doubling, virtually every year. And of course, the law of big numbers starts to kick into place, where becomes much harder. That’s why it’s so admirable when you see these, like big tech companies, or like zoom, like, in the kind of thick of the pandemic, I think we’re like, three or 400% You’re just like, holy smokes,


Scott D Clary  21:15

that must have been quite mind. mind boggling numbers. Yeah.


David Ciccarelli  21:19

For sure. Yeah, it’s like, there’s another 1000 employees here that weren’t here three months ago. No, but for us, you know, clearly a much, much smaller scale. But, you know, I, you know, it’s, it was a while back, but I would definitely say and kind of like that, you know, doubling kind of breed before and after. So to get, you know, these the two sided marketplace, or, you know, you know, an online marketplace kind of these terms are used a little bit interchangeably, they’re actually really difficult businesses to pull off, because they require what’s known, you have to solve the chicken and egg problem where you have supply, so in this case, talent, but for Airbnb, it might be rooms available for Uber might be right, you know, drivers available to take you for a ride, I mean, you go down the list of, you know, open table, it’s like seats and tables available at restaurants, that’s the supply. And then you have the demand, people looking to make a booking, or to hire a talent or a freelancer, and the supplier is not going to show up, unless there’s enough demand, but the demand is not going to go if they don’t think anyone’s gonna be there to fulfill their request. And so there’s a couple approaches. One is, and the one that we used, is what I was kind of like this equal, blank, balanced approach, where Stephanie and I divided and conquered Stephanie was all the voice, always the voice talent, you know, Gal, and she built relationships with talent, reaching out one at a time and saying, you know, literally by email, going to their website, just searching around going to the website and inviting people onto the platform, one at a time. And my job was to reach out to those clients, which I cold called, like, old school cold called 10,000 calls over the first kind of like, first five years, I just made all the calls to as many people as I could, finding, you know, lists or directories or, you know, conferences, or somebody was, you know, sponsoring, I would just give them a call and invite them that was the whole thing was just invite invite invite. And it would be at their discretion whether or not they wanted to we, you know, wanted to sign up, if you will. So it was It wasn’t some some platforms go all in on one side and then shift their direction. I think for us as we started it was each side very incremental. And more recently, where we expanded from just voiceover into these new complementary categories. As I was mentioning, the audio production and music in particular and translation. Here, the approach was a little bit different and it’s kind of like let’s go to the playbook initially, we started with a think a few 100 talent before the first clients would come on and post jobs, but maybe not quite that maybe a few you know, up to around 100 And so by that same product, you actually need a lot less supply than you’d think because let’s just get enough that we can fulfill that first request in just


Scott D Clary 24:32

one point I just want to ask quickly sorry before you keep going just to clarify something when you when you cold call these 10,000 people or when you’re reaching out cold email you’re just getting everybody like you’re again that that Paul Graham doing things that don’t scale mentality like that’s like the step one, but you’re not you’re not charging these people. You just bring them into that you can keep you have that sort of that, that baseline that you can now exact now charge Okay, Okay, gotcha. Sorry. I don’t want to clarify. Okay,


David Ciccarelli  24:59

so Yeah, no a great point and is exactly that, like it did not scale and actually have a funny story about that, that when we went to expand to these new categories, we’re like, wow, how do we, how many free? How many freelance translators do we need in order to go live? Right? And in speaking with our board member, one of our board members who was a previous, like SVP at Upwork, she’s like, well, you know, we always kind of use this proxy of like 10,000, freelancers to make a category to have sufficient was referred to as marketplace liquidity. And I thought seemed like a huge number to me. So that took us we plan that was going to take us six months. And by just welcoming in and inviting freelance translators and audio produce, we end up with 50,000 translators over about a four week period. So clearly, there’s a lot of supply, if you will, or creative talent that are out there that are wanting to participate in the gig economy. And so we read that was a huge lesson we did mostly, I mean, the most effective means was through online advertising, you know, Facebook and Instagram, a bit of Google AdWords, what we tried to repeat that was successful more than 10 years ago, was those one on one emails and just calling, you know, calling people from again, directories that we found totally did not work, just cold, like cold sending an email saying we’re expanding to these people hadn’t heard of us at all, did not work at all, we spent a couple weeks trying to do that. And I think our big takeaway, when we did our retrospective, which is another great, you know, I think is a nicer term than a post mortem, right? It’s a retro of like, what worked and what didn’t about this launch, was recognizing that we have to do things that scale at this point, we don’t, it was just very inefficient. And so that was, you know, that was just a small kind of lesson learned. Just because it worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’s going to work again in the future. So therefore, try it and be quick to let it go. And that was, that’s what we we found and then and then pivoted accordingly.


Scott D Clary  27:15

Do you think there’s a reason why it worked, because for an entrepreneur, that’s very disheartening, right, because for an entrepreneur, they don’t have capital to test at scale, they can’t come $10,000 into AdWords and see, if people are converting for a new product category, they have to call to have to aim. Yes. Was there a nuance as to why it didn’t work Now?


David Ciccarelli  27:37

I have a hypothesis, I think it’s very different when you’re a founder making a personal plea for somebody new to try something out, versus, you know, have utmost respect for our team members. But I think they were it was, it was an assignment, right? And it’s like, okay, we’re all gonna send 300 emails right to these people. And it was just it may have lacked the, it was templated, like we went through and kind of like, it may have lacked the personality and the, the, you know, the not personality, like the personal approach. That was like we I’ve listened to your, you know, I’ve reviewed your credentials, I think you’d be great to the platform, like a founder can say that with such authenticity, and in a convincing manner. And it’s like, if you don’t, you know, if this doesn’t make sense to you, like, let me know your own, like, there’s such a thirst for feedback amongst founders, that you’re willing to try whatever it is. And even if someone says no, it’s like, well, help me understand why not. So I can learn for next time. So I think that would probably be the nuance, Stephanie did such a phenomenal, phenomenal job, the first time, the personal plea, and so forth. And maybe there was something there that that would be kind of the only, you know that that’s my hypothesis.


Scott D Clary  28:56

That’s a smart, it’s a smart lesson, too. And it’s a smart lesson for founders. It’s a very smart list for founders, because sometimes they they fall into this trap of not understanding why the employees don’t have the same evangelism and conviction, but it will never be and I think that’s something that you have to just be okay with. And that’s something that you were running into when you actually tried to replicate the founder led strategy that you know, originally got you that success. Very smart. Yeah, um,


David Ciccarelli  29:21

I mean, it reminds me It reminds me Scott of like, when determining where you should be spending your time as, as the founder or as the CEO, is to do those things that only you can do. And I’ll say that again, because it’s so powerful. When you’re evaluating do I do this or that and what’s most important on my my to do list, what are those things that only you can do? And some that might be talking to an investor it might be leading the you know, for new employee training, doing the here’s who we are and how and sharing the vision, here’s our cultural norms that is so powerful coming from the founder, as one of those things that only you can do with that enthusiasm. And compared to perhaps a number of other tasks, which might be interesting might be, you know, they might inspire you, but you might not actually be the best person to do so. And I found, you know, myself in a lot of those situations, as well, where, and I see that in other entrepreneurs like men, you’re kind of in your own way here, like you are preventing the company from scaling. Now, there’s things that you can do, and only you can do, and therefore go all in on those, and let other people thrive in their own right, and kind of stepping into your shoes, they’re fine, you can provide some guidance and mentorship along the way. But, you know, if four people can do it, and it doesn’t have to be you, then just don’t don’t insert yourself unnecessarily. So I hopefully that was, that’s helpful to somebody listening out there.


Scott  31:07

I think so I think these are very, you’ve lived it, and you’ve and you’ve learned from, from, from obviously doing, doing probably the wrong thing more than once and then getting out of your own way. That’s, that’s something that, that I think if the sooner the founder can figure that out, and, and find a way to make themselves as as redundant as possible. That’s when the business can really can really take off. Okay, so we talked, okay, so we spoke about, okay, so how you got your first first 1000 customers, growth after the acquisition with with voices calm. Any other any other tips for how you scaled and marketed the business? Anything innovative, or different that you tried failed that learned lessons from that you want to talk about?


David Ciccarelli  31:49

Yeah, I mean, there’s, you know, maybe just kind of breaking apart some of the marketplace dynamics, because, you know, I often, you know, they’ll speak about this and then even like, get the question is, like, why I actually have an idea for a marketplace in like, X category, you know, often the, like Uber for accidents, like, Okay, well, you need to understand how these things kind of work, and what are those critical components, and there’s an there’s four of them. And, I mean, this is really inspired to give credit, where it’s due is from a great book called Platform revolution, I highly recommend it by a number of like, Boston College, MIT, you know, professors, it’s really well done. And they describe the difference between kind of old traditional world pipeline business where it’s very much along a value chain, and everyone’s trying to take their piece of the pie and, and control the information and who does Why’d and what kind of moves through, because they’re incentivized to keep it a closed system and control, they’re part of that value chain. So to the complement of that are the modern day equivalent, that is not a pipeline, but a platform. And a platform has four components, you have the participants, we talked about this, the buyers and sellers, the creators and the consumers. So even on YouTube, or podcast, there are people creating, and then there are people listening. And, or on Twitter, it’s like 99.999% of the people are just consuming or reading content there versus the creators who are actually posting. So who are the participants, and then those participants need to actually second, you know, critical factor here would be sharing of information, you know, different than, again, that pipeline where you’re kind of all those participants are holding, and trying to, you know, control the information, they actually want to you want to enable as a platform, you know, owner or entrepreneur, you want to enable the sharing of information. Hence, you can go on and look at a profile of a creative talent on voices and actually see all their historical information, you know, jobs that they’ve done their ratings, you know, ratings, you know, what’s in their studio, all of that, you know, there for the taking, then there’s the exchange of services. And so it could be a product or a service. It might be purely online, like like an Upwork, or Fiverr. It’s a digital service or a voices, or might be what’s sometimes called oh two Oh, online to offline, I start online with with Lyft. I call for my ride, and then it shows up offline, right, where I start online for with GrubHub or seamless and then the meal actually shows up offline. And then the last one would be the exchange of currency. And I use the term currency specific I’m not saying money, although that could be that it’s most people think of as a true platform, you actually have to enable commerce to happen and that might be capturing the payment upfront processing the payment and paying out that service provider or that you know that that supplier if you will on for work well done. If it’s one of these kind of creative, let’s call it content platforms, YouTube, or Twitter, even, then the currency is actually more social currency. And that would be gathering likes, and, you know, favorites, and even kind of ratings and reviews. And so it’s these four components that make the platform successful. And the absence of any one of those almost devolves into just purely a directory, you know, you’re not really facilitating interactions, it’s just to kind of go glean information, but the actual transaction or interaction happens elsewhere, it’s like the platform covers all of that. So, you know, again, that that’s, that’s a, I think, a great way to think about how to structure, the key components of a business, especially a lot of services, businesses are trying to move into reinventing themselves as a platform. That’s how I would think about it in having kind of built it and stumbled upon those, and then reading a butter in a book and over a weekend, I’m like, Oh, my goodness, that could have saved a decade right there. And then


Scott D Clary  36:07

what do you think is the what do you think is the number one thing when somebody is building a platform that people don’t get right? Out of those four items? Is there one that stands out more than others?


David Ciccarelli  36:16

you probably you probably don’t appreciate the need to have supply and demand, all all marketplaces, and I use that term platform marketplace a little interchangeably, again, they’re going to be either supply constrained, or demand constrained. And if you don’t know which one it is for you, you’re probably going to be, you know, you know, servicing and building up the wrong side for too long. And so, you know, case in point, you know, I actually had a friend who was one of Uber’s, first 50 employees. And I mean, there’s 10s of 1000s, full time employees and all that’s early on, very early on, and he his job was to actually go city to city to get drivers. And once they got enough driver, he basically launched new cities. And once they got just enough drivers that they immediately changed gears to he would place these cards, it was almost like business cards in hotel key like front desks. And it would just say, like your first ride free up to 50 bucks, or whatever it was. And that’s just to get this flywheel going the flywheel of network effects. And, you know, you have to know when when do you have enough supply in order to change? And then you got to go all in on the other side. So knowing what sides constraint I couldn’t, it’s not prescriptive, it’s different for every it’s not to say, Oh, well, it’s always the demand that’s constrained. Sometimes it’s the supply. I mean, Airbnb for a long time, had a hard time having enough people willing to open up their doors, and welcome in strangers, right, welcome in new guests. And so, you know, it will, it will vary depending with businesses, but if, if you don’t get the people in the marketplace using it, and both supply and demand, you actually can have negative network effects, not where it’s self reinforcing upwards, we’re getting more and more and more people. You know, an example might be, you know, the installation of the first fax machine, you know, not useful, the second fax machine useful. And third, and fourth, and fifth. But at some point, people started throwing these fax machines out, because like, why do I need a fax machine? So that’s now negative network effects, where, you know, every time someone gets rid of one, the remaining people who have fax machines, it’s less valuable than it once was. So you have to be constantly investing in that positive network effects where you’re growing your base, and doing so in that. That kind of equilibrium fashion.


Scott D Clary  39:04

One last point I wanted to bring out, because this was an interesting and interesting point that I thought we should touch on. You said that you can easily not easily you can compete with larger players by simplifying now this is not just platform specific, but I mean, this is a great lesson. So talk to me about that. I just want to take a second and thank the sponsor of today’s episode HubSpot. Now, this time of year is all about change, whether your team’s your systems or your q4 to q1 shifts. A CRM platform is a critical tool, keeping your business connected throughout all of that change, and HubSpot. It’s constantly working to make its platform more connected than ever before to help you with that change with brand new features. get into details about what makes your customers tick with custom behavioral events, track site behavior and understand your customers buying habits all within the HubSpot platform. This is built in intent data right into HubSpot. If you’re looking to find more ways to keep your data clean, and have a centralized system, the all new operations hub enterprise gives you the ability to curate datasets for all users, meaning even faster and more consistent reporting, learn more about how HubSpot CRM platform can connect your business@hubspot.com.


David Ciccarelli  40:19

Well, you know, I mean, the let’s let’s, let’s talk about, you know, the definition of of strategy, right, and which is, this might sound incredibly academic, I’ve had the great experience of doing some executive education as well, over the last couple years. And this definitions kind of stuck with me on strategy, which is arguably one of the most, you know, used overused terms. And it’s, it’s not a vision, it’s not your values. It’s, it’s, it’s not employing best practice, because that’s what everyone else is doing. Strategy, in short, is choice. And it’s the, it’s the interaction of the, you know, the integrated choices that affirm makes, like a business is going to make that differentiate it from other players in the industry to deliver long term financial results. So the integrated set of choices, what are the choices that you’re going to make as a business that are different than someone else, and that can, you know, we talked, we’re talking about simplification, if the, you know, big brand co in your space is really over complicated, they serve the high end of the market? Well, you go and carve out some other end of the market, maybe it’s a specific vertical, maybe it’s a sub segment of the customer base. And so, you know, again, for us had voices. Early on, it was, I mean, Upwork, and or Elance, and oDesk, two big freelance sites combined, become Upwork, this massive $5 billion, you know, you know, market cap, you know, business that’s now publicly traded, but they do every category, right? They, you know, you can hire, hire, and listen, we totally admire what they’re doing. They’re crushing it. But you can hire a, you know, a musician, to an electrician, to a graphic designer, to a virtual assistant, and a web developer, and so on and so forth. They have, you know, 70 ad categories, and like, 8000 skills, they’re all represented, so, huge breadth. So how do you look at that and go, Well, what aren’t they doing? Right? Or what isn’t my big competitor doing that, maybe I can take that slice and own it. And for us, that was that was voice, you know, in voiceover, now I, you know, at risk of sounding like it was completely calculated, and so forth. I think what we’ve discovered over time, is that that’s held up to be true, we can, you know, I would much prefer to go really deep on one vertical area, and own it as much as possible becoming the, you know, domain expert expert in this area. Again, kind of like the thought leader, again, term, probably overused, but owning that space, before you go, like go deep, before you go wide, is probably the simplest way to describe it. And so that’s, it’s like, you know, do something different, and then cut out all of the non value added X, you know, activities, that if you talk to your customers, like do you appreciate that we do this? You know, have you run any surgeries to understand what’s working and what isn’t. And we do those, like, quite periodically, both. Let’s call them quantitative surveys to new customers, long standing customers, and then follow that up with the qualitative interviews, we always ask at the end of the survey, do you want somebody to contact you to quickly talk through and you probably get it like five or 10% of people are like, yeah, actually, I’d like to talk to you about this and share more, more in depth feedback. So and then those kind of it’s those kind of key findings that you can do that differentiate and figure out those places where you can get your business to be a little bit simpler.


Scott D Clary  44:13

So you so you simplify and then I also want to i There’s actually you know, your your, your talent, you’re dropping a lot of entrepreneurial knowledge and insights, I feel like we could go on for a while, we may have to do a follow up at one point. So I appreciate it because you you’re this is this is just great lessons for entrepreneurs in general, outside of just of course, building platforms. There’s some great lessons there. Now we’re talking about simplifying you know going going deep versus going wide. The one other thing that I wanted to understand is and feel free to you know, drop what what voices.com is expanding into and I want to first Yeah, you can we can you can promote yourself a little bit promote, like where you’re going in the future, but also the mindset and the strategy and maybe some of that feedback loop that you You use and incorporate into your decision making process for deciding where to take the company, after you’ve reached these miles after like a keyword after you’ve reached certain milestones, when should a company look at the next shiny object? And has it? How do they decide where they want to go next.


David Ciccarelli  45:18

So the, you probably, there’s a couple ways to evaluate, like, I’ve achieved, you know, looking back from what I, you know, when you first started and go, Oh, I’ve achieved that milestone. Okay, now that I’m here, you know, what is next. And, you know, I describe that as almost like, it’s like walking towards the sunset, or if you’ve ever taken a flight going west, you know, maybe to the West Coast of the US, or Hawaii or Asia, you’re, you’re flying into the sunset. And it’s like, bright for way too long, almost. And you kind of never quite get there. And that’s almost like the journey of entrepreneurship, you always see the glowing sun off in the distance. And it’s illuminating you and it’s giving you direction, but the more you walk to it, the further almost it kind of feels like it’s going away from you, right. And so in a similar way, even when you achieve those milestones, you probably have to have this moment of pause to go, Okay, I’m acknowledging in here, you know, probably too many of us don’t stop to celebrate, enough, could be a small thing, a dinner out, you know, sleeping the next day, whatever it is just, you know, appreciate yourself and your colleagues, but then you probably going to wake up going, I’m thinking of the next thing, but how do I evaluate those opportunities. And there is, you know, again, just kind of pulling some tools off the shelf here. One that’s coming to mind is like this innovation thing, it’s called the innovation ambition matrix, where it’s like a two by two grid, right? We’re on the on the horizontal, you have markets, so like existing markets, or new markets, and then on the vertical, you have products, existing products, or new products. And so you can kind of map this out to go, am I selling? Am I going to stay in this comfort space of like my existing products and my existing markets? Or am I going to use my existing products, but find a new geography? Or find a new adjacency? Some new audience, right? It’s a new market. Or on the other hand, I’ve got this amazing market this list of customers, what else can I create for them? What else can I sell to them? So I like using this markets versus products, two by two matrix, to start to plot out where my ideas might fit? And then see where it’s kind of like, are some of them clustering together? Do I frankly, do I even feel more passionate about moving into a certain area, maybe it looks like it’s a big opportunity, but I just don’t have it in kind of in my, you know, soul to move into that area, it seems risky, or a little bit off brand or off mission. So you know, there is a degree of like subjectivity. But at least as a communication tool, that innovation matrix, you can circulate that to your board of directors, your business partners, your other members of the leadership or executive team, as a way to communicate the ideas that are happening in your head, and the natural extensions. Or sometimes we use the term growth factors and like we could go in this direction, or this direction. And I use that actually, as a communication tool. I found that really helpful. Just to move from the perception of being the entrepreneur with a bunch of ideas that seem disjointed. It’s like actually, I can fit them onto one page. And here’s my one pager. Now let’s talk about and then you can have, I think a more meaningful conversation. Because there’s logic behind behind that.


Scott D Clary  49:09

Very good. That’s a great idea. I’ve never heard of that matrix before. Oh, I think


David Ciccarelli  49:12

I figured with your your background in the MBA, you would have probably seen something like that before.


Scott D Clary  49:17

I’ve heard of urgent, important matrix like the Eisenhower like I’ve heard of all these other ones. This is a new one for me the new age. Well, no, I


David Ciccarelli  49:27

mean, listen, I think I think McKinsey Consulting is like they run their business off of these two by two matrix because you boil really complex ideas down to something simple that


Scott D Clary  49:37

and it makes you get out of your own head to it makes you totally get out of your own head, which is half the half the battle anyways. Yeah. Incredible. Okay, thank you. That was very good. I think that’s gonna be the social clip to be honest, and I’m very useful. Before I want to pivot into some rapid fire, are you still good for just a couple rapid fire questions?


David Ciccarelli  49:58 Of course yeah. It’s good.


Scott D Clary  50:02

Okay, cool. I wanted to I wanted to just get from you, you know, your future for, for voices calm, as well as closing thoughts on some of the topics we spoke about for entrepreneurs. And then where do people reach out to you social and website outside of voices.com? I guess that’s a kind of an easy one to remember. But are there other short?


David Ciccarelli  50:23

Yeah, yeah. So I mean, kind of future future voices. And where we see it going is really this evolution from a voice only marketplace to a creative services marketplace. And when, you know, looking at all those opportunities we were just talking about and kind of this innovation, you know, landscape and realizing that there are posts, certainly, you know, pre production services and post production services, before the voiceovers recorded, you need somebody to write a script, sometimes that needs to be translated into other languages. And then the voiceovers recorded. And then inevitably, afterwards, there’s audio editing, maybe mixing in music, I might even want to sync that audio track to a video that I’m working on. So these these post production services and clients are already, you know, kind of almost like hacking or owns our own site to figure out, I need these other complementary services, how do I get them done. So that is the best way to be pulled into a market as opposed to forcing yourself on it. And so that was happening at voices, we’re just really enabling it now. And that was through a bit of kind of a brand refresh, and an extent and expansion of enabling these new categories. So that’s what’s on my heart, and what’s up next, the best place if, if any of that is of interest to those listening, you know, you can reach out to me, probably the best place would be LinkedIn, to be honest, David, sister, Ellie, or looking at, you know, the, on Twitter, of course, same same handle. And then following the company, we’ve been fortunate to get the app voices on virtually every every social platform, it’s very good. That’s out there, which, which also, those are many other stories as well, too.


Scott D Clary  52:06

I’m sure that I told you, there’s more stories here.


David Ciccarelli  52:11

So those are Yeah, though, that I mean, that those are kind of the best best ways to to get in touch. I’d love to love to hear about kind of the businesses that people are working on. And maybe if there’s an opportunity that I can be supportive.


Scott D Clary  52:21

Amazing. Thank you. Thank you, David. Okay, so let’s do some rapid fire. Okay, so biggest challenge in your, in your personal life or professional life? What was it? How did you overcome that?


David Ciccarelli  52:33

So I would say the biggest challenge is that, you know, in all, humor, aside about kind of marrying my first customer, I think it actually has been working, living, eating, breathing, sleeping, thinking about this business with your spouse, kind of 24/7. And that has been very challenging, also very rewarding. But I think the, you know, the toll that that’s kind of taken just to be always on, without the space, even bringing it to the home, is I think we could have had better and healthier boundaries, which we, which we established over time. So that’s kind of the challenge, but also how we solve this. And Dr. Henry Cloud, he’s written a ton on creating healthy boundaries. And actually, the book is just called boundaries, you know, speaks a lot to this. He’s a clinical psychologist of you need to create margin in your life, you need to create space, and that reel that relates to yourself, and what is acceptable behavior. It also relates to your relationships of what are the like, how are you interacting with others? And how do you create to use the term boundaries of what is acceptable to When is it okay to talk and about business? And I mean, we have a silly thing right now, where we just say, Is it okay, if I bring up this topic and kind of asking permission to proceed? You know, before kind of diving in so I would say that’s been both the most challenging, but and rewarding. I’m sure you hear that all the time. Right.


Scott D Clary 54:15

Well, yeah, so that’s something that’s it’s a nuance that not everybody. Not everybody deals because they don’t all work with their spouse. But I think that that’s an important. It’s a superpower for some, but it’s also something they have to figure out how to leverage because it can be a detriment to it can be very harmful, or it can be something that I know that I’ve heard it from Michelle Romanov. What Dragon’s Den, yeah, no founder, now clear co now, before clearbank. She always speaks about how it’s one of the best things that she’s done for business is is you know, her partner, Andrew, he’s like he’s heavily involved like, I think he’s co founder if not mistaken. Yeah. And it’s because they’re so candid with each other like it’s it’s absolute trust. Right, which is already the biggest hurdle in business, it’s, it’s something that they never had to deal with it, that level of trust, and it just let them really just, you know, always count on the other individual at the same time, it’s hard to shut off that you’re always on. Right. Very good.


Scott D Clary  55:18

Okay, next one. Next question. A person could be I know, there’s been many but a person who’s been highly influential, impactful in your life, who was that? And what did they teach you?


David Ciccarelli  55:31

You know, one, you know, this, again, might hopefully, it doesn’t seem too corny. But I actually say my father, I mean, my dad was, and still is, you know, that that sounding board, sometimes you all need to just have a conversation could be just, frankly, letting off some steam or saying again, about a difficult situation. Or he’s arguably like the biggest champion, like, every time, there’s some like, either article that he finds online about, you know, the industry are able to kind of connect dots and like, Does this seem of interest to you? He’s been a huge, huge champion, you know, from the get go, that recording studio, I mean, he Kiki, you know, helped me get into the bank and cosign the first loan for I think, $15,000. I’m not, you know, I was like, too young to kind of realize what co signing alone men, but really, he was like, on the hook for that. And looking back now, I realized, wow, he, he really, you know, in his own way, stepped out to be supportive, you know, almost, you know, with me being so naive that I, that I’m thanking him now, I guess, is the point. And and of course, I, I do quite often. But you know, I think I think, you know, despite not working in the business, but kind of more in the behind the scenes and listening and encouraging, you know, you know, we all need people like that.


Scott D Clary  56:56

Amazing, a book or podcast that you would recommend people check out.


David Ciccarelli  57:02

Well, I mentioned I mentioned platform revolution already. Other good ones. I mean, big one around strategy is is actually by Richard Romo called good. Sorry, good strategy, bad strategy. And the difference in why it matters is I think that is the tagline. And, you know, he kind of describes that there’s this like, Colonel of strategy, he has a bit of a different take, I said, the strategy is really the set of choices that differentiate you. His his take is like, strategy is really the response. It’s still a set of choices. But it’s a response to market conditions, right? The world is doing something your customers are doing something. How are you responding, they’re always changing. So therefore, you always need to be responding. And be willing to evolve your strategy over time. And so I think that was one of my favorite, one of my favorite, it’s actually an author, I listened to it on audiobook. And I probably listened to that once, at least once, if not twice a year, you know, just in the background as you’re doing your other things. So big, big audiobook listener?


Scott D Clary  58:11

What would be one thing you would tell your 20 year old self?


David Ciccarelli  58:18

Probably have some great investment advice. That’s that’s for sure. What to invest in what to not. You know, one of the things we touched on earlier about, you know, not taking no for an answer, there’s, you know, no shortage of people who in the moment, you’re like, is this a good idea, and it’s their own risk adversity, that tends to dissuade you. But if you have the conviction yourself that you are so determined to move forward, I think there is a few times where I would have been more assertive, and kind of pushed through. And that’s probably I would, I would encourage myself to kind of, you know, develop more confidence to, you know, almost like believing in yourself and your capabilities a lot more. So, it’s, but you only grow that over time. So it’s hard just to, you know, some things are learned, and some things are best experienced. And so I think developing confidence is over experience. You can’t just say someone to be confident, and they are, you develop it, because you’ve had a track record of success, or a series of wins, or flags that you’ve planted around in the ground that you look back and be like, Whoa, look at that line. It’s all lining up every one of those flags like planted at each one of those milestones. And then you look forward, and extrapolate out and see like, oh, I can kind of see where that line of flags is, is going. And that was from following Shan Shan Weiss, who wrote in a book that he read me use that you know, it really an advisor, early advisor and subsequent an author, and I remember him writing in the cover of the book, follow the flags, and I’m like thinking like, what does that mean? Does that mean he’s like Yeah, you plant these flags in the ground, and you and you look out into the future and go, are you following them in a certain direction. And if you got some weird flag that’s way out in left field, you’re like, don’t worry about that. One, it’s off the path, you know, it’s like, follow the flags that you’ve planted for yourself, it’s probably going to be your best indication of, of success. You know, in the, in the absence of some, you know, other epiphany, there’s usually some, there’s usually some direction that’s been established through your historical choices that lead to your future choices.


Scott D Clary  1:00:33

And the last question, what does success mean to you?


David Ciccarelli  1:00:37

But Well, for me, it’s actually the realization of the vision. I mean, I’m, you know, it could be I just didn’t I just enjoy, you know, building I enjoy creating, helping to realize, you know, what I’m hoping to create is, is a creative marketplace. That is, you know, informing and educating and entertaining, you know, audiences around the world through through the human voice, you know, people are needing to have that story be told. And so success is the is the realization of that vision. And that’s really reliving it out every day, you know, through the talent that sign up and earn and living through the clients that are being able to actually have really important messages be shared in the world. So I find that rewarding on a on a personal way. And I hope by extension, certainly our whole team at voices does as well.


Scott D Clary  1:01:38

Perfect. That’s all I got. David, that was perfect. Thank you very much.

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